If India does not respect its living, it cares even less for its dead. We saw this through a news report the other day, when the body of an aged Selvaraj was transported along with vegetables in a van from the St Joseph Hospices, near Chennai. To me, this seemed like the very last nail in India's conscience -- gone completely astray.
In a nation which never fails to talk about its Gandhi, its Buddha and its Mahavir and yet is callous enough to let its rich and reckless get away with murder on the road – where inebriated drivers run their vehicles over sleeping men and where two-wheelers race at scary speeds unmindful of the pedestrians they knock down – it now appears that such inhumanity swallows the dead as well.
I cannot understand how a care-giving home could have blundered the way it did by allowing its dead to be carted in a vegetable van. Disgraceful, disgraceful.
But then, from many years ago, I have seen all this coming. In a crematorium in Chennai's Besant Nagar, I once saw a complete lack of decency and decorum among the people who had come to cremate their dead. A man was heard loudly discussing the market run over his mobile telephone, while barely 50 meters away a young widow was wailing over the loss of her husband, her little boy standing next to her bewildered and broken. The man, well dressed and educated, was senseless enough to carry on his business conversation in a place that called for utmost solemnity.
There was another occasion – the passing away of my aunt. No sooner had she breathed her last than a visiting nephrologist walked in to examine her. He found her gone, and I still remember with shuddered horror how the doctor literally stretched his arm out over her body to ask his fee!
In such a state of affairs, how can one expect even a modicum of humanness to prevail when it comes to dealing with the impoverished men and women after they die. And how can one expect the rich and the mighty to pay heed to the plight of the poor on the pavement. Had actor Salman Khan run his swanky car over the well-to-do, he might not have got away that easily. But the victims here were Mumbai's homeless, the sidewalks serving as their sleeping bags at night.
Similarly, would Selvaraj have got this kind of demeaning treatment had he belonged to the higher strata of our society?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )